by Chris Tobin
After spending many months interviewing and writing about shearers and their industry, Timaru author Ruth Entwistle Low’s admiration of them has grown immensely.
“It’s a hardworking environment; you move from shed to shed and after shearing one sheep you pull a cord, put the sheep down the port hole, wipe your brow and then take your next sheep,” she says.
“The sheep can be up to 60kg. No-one can travel New Zealand and see what is being done and not admire it.”
Mrs Entwistle’s book The Shearers: New Zealand Legends will be launched in Timaru tomorrow.
It has been a collaborative effort: her husband, Mark Low, travelled with her all over the country taking hundreds of photos, a selection of which appear in the book.
“It’s a hardworking environment; you move from shed to shed and after shearing one sheep you pull a cord, put the sheep down the port hole, wipe your brow and then take your next sheep.”
Mrs Entwistle’s sister has also helped in transcribing hundreds of hours of taped interviews, which have been edited and crafted to suit the themes of the book.
Mrs Entwistle Low has a long background as an oral historian and several years ago had a book on drovers, “On the Hoof: The Untold Story of Drovers in New Zealand, published, which remained on New Zealand’s non-fiction bestseller list for six weeks.
“In writing my latest book I became a weaver of stories rather than a writer of a shearing book,”Mrs Entwistle Low said.
She has sought to make the book reflect the nature of shearing around the country and has divided it into four sections.
“I look at who they are first, then their work, their culture and then a section ‘Guts and Glory’, which looks at the competition side of shearing.
“Each interview is fitted into those sections and shaped accordingly.
“It has allowed the shearers to do the speaking and I’m out of it.”
Among the shearers interviewed are Tony Dobbs, Peter Casserly, Eddie Parkinson, Peter and Elsie Lyon, and the famous Brian “Snow” Quinn.
She wanted to run parallel stories of farmers and their stations and properties alongside the shearers but that would have required a bigger book.
“I had to leave the farmers’ stories behind but each station I visited has a synopsis in the back to recognise their interviews, which gave me colour and understanding for the shearers’ interviews.”
Retired Timaru Boys’ High School teacher Bruce Leadley provided memories of growing up on a small family farm at Wakanui, near Ashburton, and working as a fleeco.
“There are lots of shearers who could have been interviewed but I hope they will recognise themselves in those I interviewed and will say, ‘yep, that’s me’.”